By Jason Smith
In looking back the time seems to have flown, and it’s hard to believe what has come to pass. What’s more, I know it’s just the beginning.
I’m in my 4th year of treatment for intracranial hypertension an enigmatic condition at the best of times, let alone in relatively healthy men. However when the doctors told me that my condition was serious and that I should be prepared for the worst, I guess that’s where it really started.
I always considered myself to be quite fit and healthy, so when the head aches started I put it down to the usual lack of water intake, or not eating enough of the right foods. Maybe I needed to see my chiropractor, or have a good massage, Hell! Let’s just do both. But 12 months later things are not showing any signs of improvement, in fact they took a turn for the worse as I started to go blind.
So what has this to do with martial training? The precarious situation I found myself in had gifted me the opportunity to ask several questions of myself, which in turn has made me question much of what we do as an industry.
Given the severity of my condition how relative was my training or my black belt? Who and or what is a black belt?.
What are the attributes and attitudes of what we consider worthy of a – black belt?
Why are these questions so hard to answer? When did the answers become so illusive?
and why should we care?
And after all this self diagnosis, can we find it in ourselves to restore or better yet, improve upon the old foundations of what we believe we stand for in the martial arts.
All important questions to face, and yet our tendency to over look or simply take the easiest way out has led us in a direction that may be financially lucrative but not ethically or morally sound. Furthermore it’s this same attitude that is leading us dollar over dollar further away from the true values of martial training.
I’m only 40 years old and in my 30th year of training, a relative green eyed beginner in the eyes of many, and yet even for me it’s easy to see the ever increasing gap between where we started and where we are now.
Please don’t misunderstand me, many of the developments that have taken place in martial arts industry could, or would not have happened if not for many of the developments that have aided it over the past 30 years, however we must make sure that we do not allow the shiny finish and bright lights of these developments to distract us from our true martial purpose – Service.
I doubt you’ll find a martial arts school out there regardless of style or system that recognise the importance of effective combative skills and the ability to fight with intent, speed, accuracy, power and control, control of your body as well that that of your opponent. But what about those other unspoken qualities? Values like virtue, patience, kindness, self control under immense pressure to name but a few.
Over the years I’ve had numerous discussions regarding the practice and implementation of principles in martial training, and wether they help or hinder us in a real life self defence situation.
As an industry largely fuelled by kids activities we know the commercial value of spouting the high values tag line in pitching your school to parents and educational institutions, however how relative is it to a truly combative situation.
To be honest I feel these values have little to offer us in the face of real gratuitous violence, the birth place of martial arts, so how is it relevant to what we practice?
As martial arts teachers we have the perfect avenue and ability to teach Not just combative skills, but real world self defence.
I’m not talking Krav Maga or the Kaysi fighting methods, I’m talking “REAL EVERYDAY SELF DEFENCE”.
To put this in context, we first need to ask ” What are we fighting against?”.
I was listening to Master Tom Callos, a martial artist who I’ve come to respect and whom I consider to be of high moral value.
He raised this same question “Do you teach real self defence?”, to which most would reply a confident “yes”, and yet when I followed his lead and sought confirmation from the ABS ( The Australian Bureau of Statistics) and the AIHW ( Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) the list was not surprising but still slightly discomforting.
When it comes to martial arts, the top 20 causes of death in Australia have got very little to do with combative skills.
The fact is you have a less than 5% chance of being physically assaulted, with 31% of assaults these taking place in the victims own home, with 63% of the victims knowing their offender.
You have a 4 – 5% chance of being Diabetic, of which 58% is preventable. Of those effected by Diabetes half will be overweight or obese.
You have a 33% chance of dyeing from cardiovascular disease, and a 30% chance of having to deal with Cancer, of which 55% will be within men.
These are but 2 areas highly featured in the Australian causes of death index, but I’ve listed the top 20 results of the Australian 2012 causes of death index.
So as graphic, glossy and perversely attractive as combative self defence is, the world of Real Self Defence is much closer than many are aware. What more our combative armour doesn’t help us in these real life circumstances, in fact in many ways it cages us, seeing us eroding ourselves whilst trapped in an armour many of us have invested a lifetime crafting.
I can only say this as I sit on my hospital bed grateful for the broad road I’ve been able to travel on, enabling me to invest in myself not just physically, but also mentally and philosophically.
Sitting in a hospital bed affords me a perspective far from that of the bright red and blue mats of my Dojang, and the skills needed to navigate its challenges require a trained mind and a strong spirit.
Many of the people on my ward no longer have their physicality, so their mental strength and Spirit keep them going. What Tony Robbins refers to as emotional fitness and psychological stamina.
I used to see grumpy men and women, now I just see frustrated warriors trapped in a shell they used to own with confidence. Honestly ask yourself, Wouldn’t you be a little grumpy too?
It’s these often unspoken skills, these buy products of martial training that develop these essential coping skills, and when we look at the statistics I think even the most hard headed of martial arts instructors and teachers would have to agree that our training focus has to broaden.
So if martial arts schools do not promote mental and emotional values in the same proportion as physical training, much the same way that many academic schools do not favour the creative arts over literacy, mathematics or the sciences, how can we expect our students to develop these attributes. Furthermore what does the future for martial arts hold if we don’t hold ourselves accountable for shaping it.
I don’t believe that mental and spiritual training was an intended development for most martial arts. I believe it to be a buy product of war and combative training, to assist in the resolution and management of mental/emotional trauma and hardship, much like returning soldiers dealing with conditions such as P.S.T.D (Post Traumatic Stress disorder). So in knowing that when the physical battle comes to an end the mental and the emotional battle begins, the physical training on its own is not enough to sustain the individual.
However given that today’s battles are vastly different from those who pioneered our art of choice, I feel we need to teach relevant skills to our people. Therefore I urge all those standing at the front of the class to give your students higher standards to strive too. Not just in their martial training but the way in which they live their lives.
You have the tools, lead by example, and expect more from them in the form of values and community contribution, and I’m sure they’ll surprise you, evolving into the highly skilled, balanced renaissance men and women of tomorrow.